Wendy Richard

The sex symbol in 'Are You Being Served' and the first matriach of 'Eastenders'. She left that series on Christmas Day and sadly left us all in 2009.

She was born Wendy Emerton on 20 July 1943 and went to the Royal Masonic School for Girls in Hertfordshire. Following that Richard attended the Italia Conti Academy stage school, where she 'caught the acting bug', before moving into television and film work. She made her debut, at age seventeen, in 'Sammy Meets the Girls' (1960), a television movie starring Sammy Davis Junior. Richard played a number of small roles in episodes of various television series in the 1960s, including 'Harpers West One' (1961), 'Dixon of Dock Green' (1962 and 1971), 'Hugh and I' (1962), 'Danger Man' (1964) and 'The Likely Lads' (1965). Her first memorable role was as Joyce Harker in BBC's soap opera 'The Newcomers' (1965 - 1969).

In 1962, the (spoken rather than sung) sardonic cockney vocals Richard provided on Mike Sarne's single 'Come Outside', achieved her a number one on the UK charts, albeit an uncredited one. Encouraged by this, Richard teamed up with her friend, hairdresser Diane Berry, to make another record, merely for "a bit of fun". Decca released the 45rpm format vinyl in 1963. The A-side song, 'We Had a Dream' was a close-harmony duet and the B-side, 'Keep 'Em Looking Around', included a heartbreaking monologue by Richard at the end of the song. She had top billing on the label this time, although the songs received mixed reviews and never made it onto the charts.

Her next two film roles were also uncredited, the first – her debut on the big screen - as a nurse in the comedy 'Doctor in Clover' (1966) and the second as a girl in a nightclub in the television drama 'A Catching Complaint' (1966). Next up was a more substantial role in another television drama, 'The Making of Jericho' (1966), filmed in black and white. It starred John Thaw who later became known as Inspector Morse in the television show of the same name.

'The Wednesday Play' was created by Sydney Newman and ran from 1964 to 1970. It was a BBC television series of one-off plays that gave airtime to many unknown writers and directors of the late 1960s. Richard starred in 'The Voices in the Park', a 1967 episode and was in a 1970 episode of the slapstick Roman comedy television series 'Up Pompeii'. She played Clara in 'No Blade of Grass' (1970), a sci-fi doomsday film based on the 1956 novel by John Christopher, about a deadly virus hitting London, starring Nigel Davenport and Jean Wallace.

Richard landed roles in the family comedy 'Carry On…' films, which starred Sid James, Terry Scott, Charles Hawtry and Barbara Windsor. She played the part of Kate in 'Carry On Again Christmas' (1970), was Miss Willing in 'Carry On Matron' (1972) and Ida Downs in 'Carry On Girls' (1973). She played the role of Anne Scott to rave reviews in Stephen Frears' comedy crime caper 'Gumshoe' (1971) starring Albert Finney and with a musical score by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The following year, she was Carol in 'Bless This House' (1972), a comedy about 1970s English suburbia. She made a guest appearance as EastEnders' Pauline Fowler in 'Doctor Who: Dimensions in Time' (1993), a one-off special for a children's charity, which coincided with the 30th anniversary of Stuart McDonald's 'Dr Who' sci-fi series.

As well as her film roles, Richard appeared extensively in episodes of television series, including 'Please Sir!' (1971), 'On the Buses' (1971), both the television series and the film of the same name, 'Both Ends Meet' (1972) and 'Z Cars' (1973). She appeared as Private Walker's girlfriend, Shirley, in two episodes of 'Dad's Army', in 1970 and 1973. She also had roles in 'Not on Your Nellie' (1974), 'Hogg's Back' (1975) and 'Spooner's Patch' (1979).

Theatre work was another notch in Richard's belt and her first commercial stage experience was for a short two-week run in the early 1970s, as one of the delivery girls in 'No Sex Please, We're British', which became the longest running comedy in British theatre history, playing from 1971 to 1987. In 1980, she toured for four months with the play 'Blithe Spirit', written by British playwright Noel Coward, which became one of the longest running plays, in any category, in British theatre.

She described as "disastrous" her single run with 'Let's Go Camping' in 1983, due to the play's poor attendance as well as to her being ill and unable to complete the tour. In a foray into pantomime, Richard toured with the production of 'Cinderella' during the Christmas seasons of 1983 and 1986/7, usually playing the role of Dandini, the prince's valet and friend, but she has also played the Fairy Godmother.

Dipping once more into the world of music, Richard teamed up in 1986 with actor-singer Mike Berry to re-record her 1960s single with Mike Sarne, 'Come Outside'. In this version with Berry, Richard actually sung some of the verses. It was released in December on the WEA label but failed to repeat the song's original success.

Over the years, Richard also did a fair deal of radio work. Whilst she is best known for her harsh, Cockney accented characters, she actually had a most pleasantly sultry speaking voice. She worked or appeared as a guest on a number of British radio programmes, including 'Some of These Days', 'Kaleidoscope', 'Steve Wright in the Afternoon', 'Dad's Army', 'Just a Minute', 'Listening Corner', 'Legal, Decent, Honest and Truthful' and 'Michael Parkinson' on the Sunday Show of 9 October 2005.

Richard is perhaps best known for two of her long-standing television roles. She played Miss Shirley Brahms, the rather slow sales representative with a strong Cockney accent in the 1970s BBC sitcom 'Are You Being Served?', for 13 years. As well as acting in the stage adaptation of the same name and in the cinematic version 'Are You Being Served?: The Movie' (1977), she also appeared in the short-lived sequel, 'Grace and Favour', in 1992 and 1993.

Her most well known role however, was as Pauline Fowler, matriarch and heroine, who wore dowdy clothes and had a broad Cockney accent, in BBC's soap opera 'EastEnders' (1985). For many viewers, Richard was central to the programme, holding a special place in their hearts. The programme's former executive producer Kate Harwood declared, "Pauline's indomitable nature typified the grit and fight that embodies the EastEnders spirit, as she took on the world and battled her many troubles."

Richard played this role with great pride and fondness for her character for nearly 22 years, from the first episode in February 1985. The other cast member who has been with the soap since its inception is Adam Woodyatt, who plays Ian Beale. On 10 July 2006 the BBC announced Richard's imminent departure from the sitcom. She claimed that she loved every minute of her time on 'EastEnders' and she was honoured for her many years on the soap with a dramatic ending on Christmas Day 2006. Her character, who had been the first to give birth on the programme, died from a brain haemorrhage.

In the early 1990s, Richard was diagnosed with breast cancer but was back at work within months. After a long battle with her illness and years of treatment, she finally went into remission in 1995 and began working extensively for various cancer charities.

Sadly, seven years later, the cancer returned and Richard underwent surgery to remove a lump from her neck in 2002, followed by daily treatment, which she juggled with her filming schedule. It is thought that her ailing health was influential in her decision to leave television work.

Richard had three spouses but divorced all of them. She was married to Leonard Blach from 1972 to 1974, to Will Thorpe from 1980 to 1984 and to Paul Glorney from 1990 to 1994. Her partner at the time of her death was John Burns, who was also her personal assistant.

In November 1999, Richard disturbed burglars in her Marylebone, London home when she returned from filming one evening. They managed to get away with more than £5,000 of jewellery and cash, including some rings she had worn when playing Miss Brahms in 'Are You Being Served?' (1972).

In recognition of her services to television drama, Richard was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2000 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on the Millennium Honours List. After leaving 'Eastenders', Richard was a guest presenter on 'City Hospital' and hosted a documentary 'A Tribute for John Inman' in July 2007 following his death. Inman had been one of 'Richard's co-stars on 'Are You Being Served'.

She went on to appear on a number of shows including 'Loose Women', 'The Paul O'Grady Show' and 'Big Brother's Little Brother' before securing her first acting role after 'Eastenders' in 2008. Richard took on the role of a loud-mouthed, rude and wheelchair-bound character in the second series of 'Benidorm'. Her last role was in the TV film 'Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye' in 2008.

On 5 October 2008, it was revealed that Richard's cancer had returned but it had spread to her spine, kidneys and bones. She filmed a documentary for BBC Three called 'Wendy Richard: To Tell You The Truth' about the last three months of her life. It was aired on 19 March 2009. Richard's publicist announced on 26 February 2009 that she had died at the age of 65 from breast cancer at the Harley Street Clinic in London. Her husband John Burns was at her bedside.

On the day of her death, an episode of 'Eastenders' was dedicated to her and a memorial programme was broadcast. She was buried at St Marylebone Parish Church on 9 March 2009. In July 2009, a commemorative plaque was placed by David Croft, creator of 'Are You Being Served?' at the Shepherds Tavern in London as Richard's parents had run the pub in the past.